How to Outsmart Scammers and Protect Yourself Against Elder Fraud
Every year about 7.86 million U.S. seniors fall victim to elder fraud like phone, internet and other financial scams. (See our article on elder guardianship fraud here.) Their losses total a staggering $148 billion. The unfortunate reality is that duping seniors is a growth industry. And as the senior population increases, more and more Americans over age 65 are exploited by unscrupulous scammers every year.
Targeting seniors by promising fraudulent or misrepresented goods, services or financial benefits is called elder fraud. Elder fraud scenarios are usually financial scams asking for payment or assets upfront to secure nonexistent goods or services.
Fortunately, law enforcement takes elder fraud very seriously. The U.S. government identifies about 334,000 financial scams targeting seniors every year. But they’re not the only ones on the case.
Who is Jim Browning?
There are a few heroes around the world who target and engage these con artists… and beat them at their own game! Jim Browning, a UK-based software engineer, has made a career out of exposing internet-based elder fraud.
He documents his internet scam policing with videos about how these scams work and how to protect yourself. (Check out his YouTube channel here) He even documents and posts his conversations with scammers when he catches them red-handed.
What’s an example of elder fraud?
Mr. Browning provides many examples of elder fraud on his channel. In this video, a company called Halotech masquerades as tech support. First the scammer confirms the victim’s age, because they only target folks over 50. Once they’re connected to his computer to provide the “technical support,” the scammer runs a scan and a scary virus alert pops up. The scammer explains the victim needs to buy several hundred dollars worth of antivirus software to fix the computer. In this particular case, while the victim enters their identifying and payment information, the scammer browses through and downloads some of his personal files. While she does this out of boredom with her job, there’s nothing stopping her from using those files for additional fraud.
Of course, the scam is there’s no scan, no virus and no software. The woman from Halotech has forced a fake virus message to appear to scare the victim into buying antivirus software that doesn’t exist.
Jim explains the scam at the beginning of the video. But he doesn’t stop there. He also confronts the scammer. In an example of turnabout is fair play, he hacks the scammer’s computer, sending a pop-up message saying, “Do you think Jesus would be pleased with your scams?” The scammer panics and calls her supervisor now worrying her computer has been hacked.
How can you protect yourself from elder fraud?
All joking aside, elder fraud is a serious issue affecting far too many seniors. Law enforcement agencies worldwide are working hard to prevent these financial schemes, but they can only do so much. Education is the key to prevention.
In the U.S., the FBI has a division explicitly investigating elder fraud scams. Here’s what they recommend to prevent becoming a victim of elder fraud:
- Don’t trust unsolicited calls, emails and mailings.
- Keep your computer’s antivirus and security software up to date.
- Don’t provide personal information, property, valuables or money to any entity or business you don’t know or haven’t verified.
- Scammers will pressure you to act quickly. They’re trying to create a sense of urgency to override your concerns. Don’t give in to the pressure!
- If you think you’re being scammed, do an internet search for the company to confirm they’re reputable or if others have reported their scamming.
- Once you recognize the scam, sever all communication with the perpetrator.
Most scammers limit their contact to the phone or internet. But if you feel you’re in danger, call your local police right away.
What to do if you’ve experienced elder fraud?
Regardless of the dollar amount, if you or someone you know has been the victim of elder fraud, gather as much of the below information as possible:
- names of the scammer and/or company;
- when and how you communicated with the scammer;
- phone numbers, emails, addresses and websites used for the payment;
- where and how you sent funds, along with your bank and account names and numbers;
- what happened and what instructions you were given; and
- any original documentation, emails, faxes or logs of all communications.
Protect yourself and your assets by following the tips above and remaining vigilant!
image credit: shutterstock/richardjohnson